Wednesday, January 24, 2007

The fourth Gulf War must not happen


24 January 2007

GEORGE Bush rolled history’s dice in Iraq and lost but now our region must pay the price of the neocon imperial ineptitude. The president has ordered the USS John Stennis, with its 5000 sailors and F–18 Hornet bombers to set sail for the Gulf, making it the second US Navy aircraft carrier deployed within the Straits of Hormuz.

While Ahmedinijad fulminates against the Great Satan in Caracas with Comrade Hugo in defiance of the Monroe Doctrine and mocks the Holocaust, the American military noose tightens around Iran. The United States has escalated its pressure on Iran since the UN imposed sanctions to punish the regime’s clandestine nuclear enrichment programme in December 2006.

The raid on Iran’s Kirkuk consulate and arrest of Revolutionary Guard intelligence agents, the US Treasury’s blackball of Iran’s international banking relations, CIA sabotage and infiltration in Khuzestan, pressure on the Kremlin and Beijing to halt the sales of ballistic missiles to Teheran, psychological warfare about an Israeli air strike, deployment of warships and combat troops in US bases across the Gulf, the imminent assault against the Shia militias in Baghdad, the presence of NSC hawk – Eliot Abrams in Dr Condi Rice’s entourage to Saudi Arabia all suggest that the world is sleep walking into the fourth Gulf War. As in September 1980, August 1990 and March 2003, the miscalculations and delusions of megalomaniac statesmen spell disaster in the Gulf.

The oil market also points to the rising probability of war. In 1986, Iran’s shock troops broke Iraqi battle lines at Dezful and encircled the trapped Republican Guard brigades in Basra, whose capture would have meant doom for the Baathist regime. It was the most dangerous moment for the West’s clients in the Iran-Iraq war. Just then, oil prices crashed to $10 a barrel as Saudi Arabia flooded the crude spot market in Rotterdam with tanker loads of black gold in Sheikh Yamani’s netback deals. The crash in oil prices bankrupted Iran’s war chest and forced Ayatullah Khomeini to abandon his war aims and sue for peace with the Iraqi’s on the Shatt al Arab. The 1986 crash in oil prices was due to pure Middle East geopolitics because the American economy was booming and the Roaring Eighties bull market was in full swing on Wall Street. Is history repeating itself now? Did Washington help engineer another oil price crash to deprive the theocratic regime of Iran of the petrocurrency hoards needed to buy black market missiles, death squads and centrifuges? Is the fourth Gulf War, like its three bloody predecessors, also about oil, the fateful prize that proved so expensive a currency in Arab blood since 1948?

It is a tragic irony that, as they sleepwalk across the geopolitical minefields of the Gulf towards war, Bush and Ahmedinijad are both failed ideologues who have lost their domestic mandates. The Congressional election in November was a damning verdict of the American electorate against Bush’s messianic delusions in Iraq. Two thirds of the American people oppose the war that has proved so catastrophic in lives and Uncle Sam’s tax dollars. The old guard of the Establishment has repudiated the war. Yet Bush ignored the Baker–Hamilton recommendations and chose military power, not diplomacy, with Iran. Ahmedinijad has faced a torrent of criticism in the Iranian Press for his tirades on the world stage. His protégés lost elections to the Assembly of Experts and his populist demagoguery is anathema to pragmatic diplomats like Ali Larijani, whose shuttles to Jeddah ahead of Dr Rice’s visit was an attempt to avert the war that Ahmedinijad’s rhetoric seems destined to hasten.

Above all, war is an abhorrent prospect for Teheran’s bazaari merchant elite, whose money financed the Shia Qom clerics for centuries, the ascent of Mohammed Mossadegh’s Nationalists in the 1950’s, the revolutionary riots against the Pahlavi Shah, the ascent of Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani as Iran’s top powerbroker in the 1980’s. It is a pity that Fox News and CNN are totally ignorant about the nuances of Iranian factional and theological politics. It is a pity that Bush’s “axis of evil” demonology has only helped the fanatics and sworn enemies of the West seize power in Iran.

There is no doubt that the Bush White House will not hesitate to use America’s awesome armadas, armies and warplane squadrons in the Gulf. The US encouraged its client Ethiopia to invade Somalia and used questionable intelligence to bomb Somali jihadist camps. The US has deployed Patriot anti–missile batteries on naval warships off the coast of its Gulf Arab allies. The US has funded Kurdish and Sunni enemies of Dr Assad’s Alawite Baathist regime in Damascus. The US gave the green light to Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to launch his air, sea and land assault against Hezbollah in Lebanon. There is no doubt that “Bush’s new way forward” means war with Iran.

The US decision to boost its naval assets in the Horn of Africa, the Gulf and the Red Sea all mean that Tomahawk missiles and F–18 warplanes could well streak like angels of death over the skies of the ancient Persian desert. The Pentagon itches to move against Moqtada Al Sadr’s Mahdi Army militia in the Shia slums of Baghdad. The US seems determined to exploit the schisms in Iraq that turned the Arab heartland into a sectarian slaughterhouse, that bequeathed Renaissance Europe with wars of religion which lasted centuries, passions could well plunge the Arab world in generations of war.

Sadr City or West Beirut could be the new Arab Sarajevo, the catalyst for a regional war. Kurdistan is a de facto sovereign state where the Iraqi national flag is banned. Al–Anbar province is a Sunni jihadi enclave, akin to Mullah Omar’s Afghan emirate in the 1990’s. The two Shia militia warlords in Basra are poised for civil war within a civil war. The US combats Shia insurgents in Lebanon and befriends Shia warlords in Iraq even while its combat troops control little beyond the Green Zone. It encourages Arab government to ally with its patrons while a horrified world watched the IDF massacre Lebanese innocents in Qana. The Middle East is on the precipice of regional civil wars unlike anything seen in the region since the twilight and death rattle of the Ottoman Empire a century ago.

There are no winners in this madness in the Gulf other than the Halliburtons and the Bechtels who get to rebuild all the Arab cities and oilfields gutted by American napalm and cruise missiles since Desert Storm. America must not let Bush to go to war against Iran, a war that will be a nightmare for the entire world. The fourth Gulf War must not happen.

Matein Khalid is a Dubai based investment banker

Pakistan lodges protest to US, UK

Crocker, Frankley summoned to Foreign Office
Joint Pak-NATO investigation convened

Islamabad—Pakistan on Tuesday protested with United States and United Kingdom over an attack on a Pakistani post in Shawal area in North Waziristan Agency by US-led coalition forces on Monday in which one FC soldier was killed and two injured.
The US ambassador to Pakistan, Ryan C Crocker and British High Commissioner to Pakistan Robert Frankley were summoned to the Foreign Office and were handed over a complaint.
Pakistan strongly protested the incident with US stating that Pakistan has been a frontline coalition partner in war against terrorism and one of its check posts was attacked in which one paramilitary forces jawan embraced Shahadat and two others were injured. A strong protest was also lodged with British High Commissioner Robert Frankley over the matter. According to Foreign Office, Richard David, commander of Allied Forces in Afghanistan who is commander of ISAF, hails from United Kingdom.
Both US, UK were informed that Pakistan will not tolerate any such incident in the future.
The American and British ambassadors were told “the coalition authorities should investigate the incident and ensure that such incidents do not occur in future,” the ministry said in a statement.
“Both expressed deep regrets and said that the incident was being investigated.”
Afghanistan’s NATO force said the incident happened following an insurgent rocket attack near a NATO base on the border.
“Shortly afterwards a group of insurgents was identified moving east toward the Pakistan border,” NATO said.
A NATO aircraft attacked the insurgents and NATO said it believed “all ordnance fired landed on the target and one insurgent was killed and another injured.”
“ISAF deeply regrets the loss of life and injuries sustained by Pakistani forces, although the cause of these casualties, and who is responsible, is as yet unclear,” the NATO force, known as the International Security Assistance Force, said in a statement.
The foreign forces apparently mistook Pakistani paramilitary troops in their traditional shalwar and kameez tunics for militants and fired on them at Zangota check post in the North Waziristan tribal region on Monday.
A joint NATO-Pakistani investigation had been convened, it said.
Pakistan is a key ally in the US-led war on terrorism but the United States and other western countries have been urging it do more to curb growing cross-border infiltration by militants from its territory.—Agencies

Rebuttal to the 2007 State of the Union

The Drum Major Institute

Executive Summary

There was little for current and aspiring middle-class Americans in tonight’s State of the Union Address. On the domestic front, which is the concern of this report, President Bush wavered between promoting ideologically driven experiments to fix our most pressing problems and offering such detailed proposals that the larger challenges were obscured.

View DMI's Entire 2007 State of the Union Analysis

Please click on the links below for DMI's rapid response to the President's proposals in each policy area:

The Economy


Health Care



When it came to health care, the President opted to push an aggressive ideological agenda on the backs of middle-class Americans, offering “market-based” proposals that treat health care as if it were any other commodity and fail to address the real reasons behind its ballooning costs. On the economy, the President wants to reduce the deficit while maintaining his tax cuts that favor the very wealthy.

On issues like education and energy, the President’s proposals lacked a core vision or an admission that previous years of inaction and underfunding have made these problems far more intractable today than they had to be.

Listening to the speech, average Americans heard the President use those words that the droves of Americans who abandoned him and his party at the polls two months earlier wanted to hear. He spoke of improving access to health care and of providing a system of public education that would “leave no child behind.” He told us he would balance our federal budget. He promised to reduce America’s dependence on oil, to improve our environment, to secure the border and to save Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. He looked Americans in the eye and told them our economy was good and their lives were getting better.

But when one looks past the State of the Union’s middle class window dressing, one cannot help but notice the speech reflects a view of America and an approach to government that is at odds with the reality lived by average Americans. The flourishing economy described in the speech may reflect the view held by corporate CEOs and Wall Street bankers whose fortunes have certainly improved in the past year, but it bears little resemblance to the experience of middle-class Americans who worry about the security of their jobs, how they can afford to pay their mortgages, to send their children to college as well as to save for retirement, and who wonder why their dollar seems to buy less and less every year.

The President’s proposals, at their core, would implement a conservative ideology that doggedly protects the wealthiest Americas from tax hikes by sharply cutting social programs and absolve corporations from their obligation to protect the health and welfare of their employees by shifting those burdens to the workers themselves. And on issues like the environment, the President merely plays a shell game by distracting Americans with promises to reduce our nation’s consumption of oil while he discretely announces his desire to step up domestic oil production and to double the capacity of our nation’s Strategic Petroleum Reserve.

As the father of the President’s party, Abraham Lincoln, once wisely observed, “you can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you cannot fool all of the people all of the time.” Tonight, those who genuinely value the interests of the middle class and those aspiring to join the middle class have not been fooled.

Read DMI on the 2007 State of the Union in its entirety-PDF

President's Portrayal of 'The Enemy' Often Flawed

By Glenn Kessler

Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, January 24, 2007; A13

In his State of the Union address last night, President Bush presented an arguably misleading and often flawed description of "the enemy" that the United States faces overseas, lumping together disparate groups with opposing ideologies to suggest that they have a single-minded focus in attacking the United States.

Under Bush's rubric, a country such as Iran -- which enjoys diplomatic representation and billions of dollars in trade with major European countries -- is lumped together with al-Qaeda, the terrorist group responsible for the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. "The Shia and Sunni extremists are different faces of the same totalitarian threat," Bush said, referring to the different branches of the Muslim religion.

Similarly, Bush asserted that Shia Hezbollah, which has won seats in the Lebanese government, is a terrorist group "second only to al-Qaeda in the American lives it has taken." Bush is referring to attacks nearly a quarter-century ago on a U.S. embassy and a Marine barracks when the United States intervened in Lebanon's civil war by shelling Hezbollah strongholds. Hezbollah has evolved into primarily an anti-Israeli militant organization -- it fought a war with Israel last summer -- but the European Union does not list it as a terrorist organization.

At one point, Bush catalogued what he described as advances in the quest for freedom in the Middle East during 2005 -- such as the departure of Syrian troops from Lebanon and elections in Iraq. Then, Bush asserted, "a thinking enemy watched all of these scenes, adjusted their tactics and in 2006 they struck back." But his description of the actions of "the enemy" tried to tie together a series of diplomatic and military setbacks that had virtually no connection to one another, from an attack on a Sunni mosque in Iraq to the assassination of Maronite Lebanese political figure.

In his speech, Bush argued that "free people are not drawn to violent and malignant ideologies -- and most will choose a better way when they are given a chance." He also said that terrorist groups "want to overthrow moderate governments."

In the two of the most liberal and diverse societies in the Middle East -- Lebanon and the Palestinian territories -- events have undercut Bush's argument in the past year. Hezbollah has gained power and strength in Lebanon, partly at the ballot box. Meanwhile, Palestinians ousted the Fatah party -- which wants to pursue peace with Israel -- from the legislature in favor of Hamas, which is committed to Israel's destruction and is considered a terrorist organization by the State Department.

In fact, many of the countries that Bush considers "moderate" -- such as Egypt and Saudi Arabia -- are autocratic dictatorships rated among the worst of the "not free" nations by the nonpartisan Freedom House. Their Freedom House ratings are virtually indistinguishable from Cuba, Belarus and Burma, which Bush last night listed as nations in desperate need of freedom.

Bush also claimed that "we have a diplomatic strategy that is rallying the world to join in the fight against extremism." But Monday, a poll of 26,000 people in 25 countries was released that showed that global opinion of U.S. foreign policy has sharply deteriorated in the past two years. Nearly three-quarters of those polled by GlobeScan, an international polling company, disapprove of U.S. policies toward Iraq, and nearly half said the United States is playing a mainly negative role in the world.

In his State of the Union address a year ago, Bush said that progress in Iraq meant "we should be able to further decrease our troop levels" but that "those decisions will be made by our military commanders, not by politicians in Washington, D.C." Bush now proposes to increase troop levels, after having overruled the concerns of commanders. In his speech last night, he sidestepped this contradiction, saying that "our military commanders and I have carefully weighed the options" and "in the end, I chose this course of action."

On domestic policy, Bush at one point said that "the recovery" has added more than 7.2 million jobs since August 2003. But the net number of jobs created since Bush became president in January 2001, is much lower -- just 3.6 million. The Bush administration's performance is fairly mediocre for the sixth year of a presidency, according to historical statistics maintained by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Nearly 18 million jobs were added by the sixth year of Bill Clinton's presidency -- and nearly 10 million were added at this point in Ronald Reagan's presidency.

Bush claimed credit for cutting the budget deficit ahead of schedule and proposed to eliminate it over the next five years. He did not mention that he inherited a huge budget surplus -- $236 billion in 2000 -- compared with a $296 billion deficit in the 2006 fiscal year, largely as a result of Bush's tax cuts and spending increases. Bush claimed that the No Child Left Behind Act has helped students to "perform better at reading and math, and minority students are closing the achievement gap." But states made stronger average annual gains in reading during the decade before the law took effect, education researchers have found, and half a dozen recent studies have shown little progress in narrowing the test-score gap between minority and white students.

Staff writer Amit R. Paley contributed to this report.

Northern Ireland shows that Israel should engage Hamas

The transformation of the IRA shows why Israel should talk to Hamas

Only negotiations with both main Palestinian parties can deliver the peace deal that the two peoples now support

Jonathan Freedland in Jerusalem
Wednesday January 24, 2007
The Guardian

The Israeli novelist Amos Oz once said Israelis and Palestinians were like patients who know exactly what painful surgery they need to undergo and are ready to face it. The trouble is, their surgeons are cowards. That's certainly how it seems now. The two peoples have come, without enthusiasm, to a realisation of what will have to be done, what will have to be sacrificed, to live alongside the other. Polls show large majorities on both sides ready to back a peace deal on the now-traditional lines: two states, one for each nation. A recent survey had 72% of Palestinians wanting their leaders to sign a peace treaty with Israel. Meanwhile, assorted members of Israel's cabinet have been tripping over each other to offer their own peace plans - recognition that there's a hunger among Israelis to escape the status quo.

Yet the two leaders - the surgeons - are frozen. Tonight Israel's prime minister, Ehud Olmert, will address the Herzliya security conference, an occasion that has come to be associated with high political drama ever since Ariel Sharon used it to announce his planned disengagement from Gaza. Yet few among Israel's punditocracy expect any such thunderbolt from Olmert. Ever since his core unilateralism strategy was discredited last summer by what Israelis call the second Lebanon war - which seemed to prove that unilateral pullouts from once-occupied territory only bring trouble - Olmert has been without an agenda, let alone a vision.

Meanwhile, the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, is a byword for weakness. With next to no powerbase, even in his own Fatah movement, he has seen a virtual civil war erupt between his men and Hamas, which a year ago won a majority in the Palestinian parliament. More than 60 Palestinians have been killed by Palestinians. Before he can even think about reconciling with Israel, Abbas has to reconcile Fatah and Hamas.

How to navigate around this landscape is the challenge I found Israelis and Palestinians grappling with this week, whether in Jerusalem or Ramallah. Israel's officials speak of presenting Palestinians with a choice. Either they take the path embodied by Abbas, of negotiation and compromise, and reap the rewards - or they stick with the hardliners of Hamas and face the consequences, including economic isolation and a cold shoulder not only from Israel but from the European Union, the US, and beyond. To make that choice easier, Israel will sketch out the "political horizon", explaining what the Palestinians would gain if the Abbas approach prevailed - chiefly a rapid move to statehood on a substantial chunk (but far from all) of the West Bank and Gaza, with resolution of the thorniest issues to come later. That's the choice. As one official put it: "Go with Hamas, and it's isolation, stagnation and a dead end. Go with the moderates and it's international support, an energised process and a clearer horizon than ever before."

It sounds simple enough, but that approach carries multiple problems. The first is credibility. Too many Palestinians will say they've heard Israeli promises before that have come to nothing. They point to the December 23 meeting between Abbas and Olmert where the latter promised prisoner releases and relaxation of checkpoints, none of which materialised. What's more, the Palestinian pollster Khalil Shikaki told me yesterday, moderates face an uphill task when they argue that diplomacy gets results: "Unilateralism badly damaged that idea. Palestinians say, why should we make concessions when Israel has already given away land without any concessions from us?"

Above all, Israel's approach involves a selective blindness, lavishing attention on Abbas as if Hamas did not exist and did not command a parliamentary majority. But there could be another, riskier way - one that would benefit not only Israel but the wider world too.

If Israel decided not to shun Hamas, but to reel it into the peace process, everything could look different. Hamas almost benefits from its isolation, retaining its status as the pure party, unsullied by compromise. If, though, it could, at long last, be brought into a national unity government with Fatah, it would soon have to get its hands dirty.

Until now, the sticking point has been Hamas's refusal to sign up to the three conditions set by the EU, US and UN: recognition of Israel, renunciation of violence and a commitment to abide by existing Palestinian agreements with Israel. The international stance has been clear - either Hamas says yes three times, or it stays in the cold.

But, says one Palestinian analyst, instead of such a black-and-white choice, the international community should start seeing shades of grey. If Hamas can agree with one or two of that troika, then a process of engagement could begin. The trick would be to call on the peace negotiator's old friend, "constructive ambiguity". So if Hamas says it can "respect" existing agreements, rather than "commit to" them, maybe that should be enough (that linguistic difference is the current sticking point between Abbas and Hamas).

For Israel, the advantages would be clear. First, once locked into the process, Hamas would lose its above-the-fray status. Second, it is not a monolithic organisation, and differences between moderates and hardliners would soon be exposed. Third, Israel always used to say that it was not interested in the words Yasser Arafat uttered, it was his deeds that mattered. Well, now Israel could apply that same logic to Hamas - no longer obsessing over the statements Hamas is prepared to make, but over its deeds. If the movement continues, and entrenches, its current ceasefire and, alongside Fatah, works to enforce it among fringe groups such as Islamic Jihad, that should surely speak louder than any number of declarations.

And there is a larger interest at stake here. Currently, the isolation of Hamas has driven it into the arms of Iran, which has been only too happy to play the deep-pocketed sugar daddy, boosting Tehran's ambitions as a regional superpower. But this is a frail alliance. Palestinians are Sunni and wary of any kind of Shia hegemony. Tellingly, Sheikh Yusuf Qaradawi, the spiritual leader of the wider Muslim Brotherhood movement of which Hamas is a part, issued a recent warning against the growing power of Iran and Shi'ism. So Hamas is eminently separable from Iran, which could break up the Shia "arc" of influence that so troubles London and Washington.

Israel disputes all this. If there were moderates in Hamas, it says, Israel would be engaging with them, but there are not. Israelis point to the serial caveats and disclaimers that come attached to any Hamas hint of recognition of Israel's right to exist. What of the recent Hamas statement recognising Israel as a "reality"? That means nothing, one senior official told me yesterday. "I recognise Aids as a reality, that doesn't mean I don't want to defeat and destroy it."

In the end, it comes down to how you view peace processes. Do you believe that the enemy is only fit to take part in a negotiation once it has changed, or that the very act of taking part can change the enemy? The Israeli government believes the former. After the transformation of the IRA in the decade or more of Good Friday talks - from swearing it would never decommission a bullet to standing down its forces - I believe the latter. If Tony Blair wants to put his final months to good use, perhaps he can press this point on all those who need to hear it. Otherwise, the patients will remain stuck in that operating theatre, only getting sicker.

Father of the modern conservative movement hints at third party

Richard Viguerie:

The underlying message in this State of the Union Address was directed toward the Democrats: In effect, we can work together--let's make a deal. The underlying message directed toward the conservatives was: You have no place else to go.

Among the other omissions in the President's speech:

  • He did not acknowledge any mistake in pursuing the liberal, big government policies that have driven the Republican Party from power on Capitol Hill.
  • He did not announce any changes in personnel in a conservative direction.
  • He did not announce that he will veto any increase in discretionary spending.
  • He did not call for the downsizing or elimination of any government programs.
  • He did not call for eliminating the corporate welfare shelled out to big business.
  • He did not announce that he will veto any legislation that contains 'earmarks.'
  • He did not launch a serious war on the institutionalized government corruption between big business, their lobbies, Congress, and the Administration.
  • He did not announce any significant initiatives to protect traditional moral values.

Accordingly, conservatives must continue to declare their independence from the Republican Party. We must act as a Third Force in American politics, seeking to draw both major political parties to the Right. Conservative principles and goals take precedence over partisanship. We will support Democrats and Republicans alike when they do the right thing, and oppose Democrats and Republicans alike when they do the wrong thing.

'There is no war on terror', says top prosecutor

Wed Jan 24, 5:40 AM ET

The nation's top prosecutor has set himself at odds with Prime Minister Tony Blair's government, saying the "war on terror" does not exist and urging restraint on laws threatening human rights.

The director of public prosecutions, Ken Macdonald, warned Wednesday of a "fear-driven and inappropriate response" to the new threat that could lead to the abandonment of respect for fair trials and due legal process.

In a speech to the Criminal Bar Association, reported by the Guardian newspaper, Macdonald rejected the assertion that a "war on terror" was being played out in Britain.

"On the streets of London, there is no such thing as a 'war on terror', just as there can be no such thing as a 'war on drugs', said Macdonald, who heads the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS).

"The fight against terrorism on the streets of Britain is not a war. It is the prevention of crime, the enforcement of our laws and the winning of justice for those damaged by the infringement."

One of the primary aims of groups and invididuals who committed atrocities such as the July 2005 suicide bombings in London was to encourage a response that ran counter to British values, he added.

Since the bombings -- and even after the September 11, 2001 attacks in the United States -- there have been criticisms that anti-terrorism legislation unfairly targets British Muslims.

Blair has tried -- and failed -- to increase the maximum period of detention without charge for security suspects to 90 days, while detention without trial -- the government's response to September 11 -- was ruled unlawful.

The courts have also criticised an alternative system of "control orders" -- a loose form of house arrest for security suspects -- as incompatible with human rights laws.

Macdonald said a "culture of legislative restraint in the area of terrorist crime is central to the existence of an efficient and human rights compatible process".

Without such restraint, there would be a greater number of less safe convictions, he added.

The criminal justice system's response to terrorism must be "proportionate and grounded in due process and the rule of law", he told his audience.

"We must protect ourselves from these atrocious crimes without abandoning our traditions of freedom."

U.S. launches new air strike on Somalia: report

By Sahal Abdulle Wed Jan 24, 5:22 AM ET

A U.S. Air Force AC-130 gunship has launched a second air strike against suspected al Qaeda operatives in southern Somalia, the Washington Post reported on Wednesday, citing unidentified U.S. officials.

No confirmation of Monday's reported attack was immediately available in the region and a Pentagon spokesman declined to comment. The newspaper said there was no information on the results or the specific targets of the strike.

An AC-130 gunship two weeks ago attacked what Washington said were al Qaeda agents fleeing with Islamist forces defeated by Somali government and Ethiopian troops late last month. It was the first overt U.S. action in Somalia since the end of a disastrous peacekeeping mission in 1994.

Somali government spokesman Abdirahman Dinari said he was not aware of a second U.S. attack.

Washington believes Somali Islamists harbored al Qaeda members accused of bombing two U.S. embassies and an Israeli-owned hotel in east Africa.

Any prolonged U.S. intervention in Somalia would be sure to inflame political passions there, joining the chorus of Muslims who see the "war on terror" as a crusade against Islam.

A freelance Somali journalist said on Sunday he had seen U.S. troops on the ground in south Somalia working with Ethiopian forces hunting fugitive Islamists. Ethiopia vehemently denied the report.

Rumors have swirled for days that U.S. personnel were inside Somalia since the January 8 strike but there has been no official confirmation of a U.S. ground presence.

Mortars were fired at Mogadishu airport on Wednesday, killing one person and injuring another after a U.N. delegation arrived in the Somali capital, a government source said.

"A U.N. delegation just arrived and as soon as they left the plane, two mortar shells hit the airport," the source said.

"One person was killed while another was injured," the source said, adding the victims were Somalis. The U.N. Development Programme delegation was taken to an agency compound.

A spate of attacks, mainly against Ethiopian troops backing Somalia's interim government, have rocked the capital since they helped oust Islamists from Mogadishu and much of the south they had controlled for six months in a lightning December offensive.

The Islamists and some foreign supporters have vowed to wage guerrilla war against Ethiopian troops in the country, and many Somalis suspect their militants have been behind the attacks.


Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi said on Wednesday some 200 soldiers had withdrawn from the chaotic nation.

"We have organised that the last phase of withdrawal will coincide with deployment of AU forces," Meles told a news conference in Addis Ababa. "There will be no vacuum."

The African Union (AU) has approved a nearly 8,000-strong peacekeeping force for Somalia, but experts doubt its capacity to muster it, let alone tame a nation in anarchy since the 1991 ouster of dictator Mohamed Siad Barre.

The Islamists have been pushed into the remote southern tip near Kenya's border and Nairobi has in custody top Islamist leader Sheikh Sharif Ahmed.

A Kenyan government official said on Wednesday Ahmed would not be deported to Somalia because he would be killed and that he has asked for refuge in Yemen.

Yemen's foreign minister was quoted as saying this month that some Islamist leaders had arrived there.

"We won't send him back. He will be killed," the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told Reuters.

"(Prime Minister Ali Mohamed) Gedi is in town and we are trying to persuade him to talk to Sheikh Sharif, but he won't. He (Ahmed) wants to go to Yemen."

Dinari declined to comment on the fate of Islamists returned to Somalia.

Considered a moderate before the war, Ahmed is among those the United States sees as a potential force in reconciliation.

The Kenyan official said Ahmed was under the watch of Kenya's National Security Intelligence Service at a plush hotel in Nairobi's outskirts.

Many diplomats suspect a Kenyan and U.S. hand in bringing Ahmed in.

At least one Western diplomat dismissed as false reports that he turned himself in at the Kenyan border on Sunday: "He's been in the shade in Nairobi for at least a week and they have just been figuring out how to handle it."

A European diplomat said Ahmed had been in the country since at least January 16.

The U.S. embassy in Kenya said Ambassador to Kenya Michael Ranneberger planned to meet Ahmed later this week.

(Additional reporting by Bryson Hull and Marie-Louise Gumuchian in Nairobi and Tsegaye Tadesse in Addis Ababa)

Off the Rails: Big Oil, Big Brother Win Big in the State of the Union

by Greg Palast
Tuesday, 23 January, 2006

There was that tongue again. When the President lies he’s got this weird nervous tick: He sticks the tip of his tongue out between his lips. Like a little boy who knows he’s fibbing. Like a snake licking a rat.

In his State of the Union tonight the President did his tongue thing 124 times — my kids kept count.

But it wasn’t all rat-licking lies.

Most pundits concentrated on Iraq and wacky health insurance stuff. But that’s just bubbles and blather. The real agenda is in the small stuff. The little razors in the policy apple, the nasty little pieces of policy shrapnel that whiz by between the appearances of the Presidential tongue.

First, there was the announcement the regime will, “give employers the tools to verify the legal status of their workers.” In case you missed that one, the President is talking about creating a federal citizen profile database.

There’s a problem with that idea. It’s against the law. The law in question is the United States Constitution. The Founding Fathers thought the government had no right to keep track on a citizen unless there is evidence they have committed, or planned to commit, a crime.

But the Founding Fathers didn’t imagine there were millions and billions of dollars to be made by private contractors ready to perform this KGB operation for the Department of Homeland Security, tracking each and every one of us to keep tabs on our “status.”

These work databases will tie into “voter verification” databases required by the Help America Vote Act. And these will tie to the databases on citizenship and so on.

Will Big Brother abuse these snoop lists? The biggest purveyor of such hit lists is Choice Point, Inc. – those characters who, before the 2000 election, helped Jeb Bush purge innocent voters as “felons” from Florida voter rolls. Will they abuse the new super-lists? Does Dick Cheney shoot in the woods?

There were several other little IEDs (improvised execrable policy devices) planted in the State of the Union. Did you catch the one about doubling the Strategic Petroleum Reserve? If you’re unfamiliar with the SPR, it is supposed to be the stash of oil we keep in case the price of crude gets too high.

Well, the price of oil has been horribly high but Dick Cheney, the official who sits on the Reserve’s spigots, has refused to release the oil into the market.

Instead of unleashing the Reserve and busting Big Oil’s price gouging Bush will double the Reserve, which will require buying three-quarters of a billion barrels of oil. This is a nice $40 billion pay-out to Big Oil from the US Treasury. Compare this to the President’s health insurance plan which will be “revenue neutral” — that is, have a net investment of zero.

But the $40 billion in loot the oilmen will get from us taxpayers for doubling the Reserve is nothing compared to the boost in the worldwide price of crude caused by this massive, mad purchase. While the Congressional audience didn’t even bother polite applause for the reserve purchase plan, there’s no doubt they were whooping it up in Saudi Arabia. Clearly, the state of the Saudi-Bush union is still pretty good.

But why end on a cynical note? I must admit I was moved by the President’s praise of Wesley Autrey, a New Yorker who, last month, threw himself on top of a man who had fallen on subway tracks — and held him between the track rails as the train passed over them.

While the President properly acknowledged Autrey’s courage in saving the man who fell on the subway tracks, Mr. Bush still did not explain why Dick Cheney pushed the man in the first place.

Greg Palast is the author of the New York Times bestseller: Armed Madhouse: Dispatches from the Front Lines of the Class War. The subscribe to Palast’s investigative reports, go to

NY Times Editorial: The State of the Union

January 24, 2007

The White House spin ahead of George W. Bush’s seventh State of the Union address was that the president would make a bipartisan call to revive his domestic agenda with “bold and innovative concepts.” The problem with that was obvious last night — in six years, Mr. Bush has shown no interest in bipartisanship, and his domestic agenda was set years ago, with huge tax cuts for wealthy Americans and crippling debt for the country.

Combined with the mounting cost of the war in Iraq, that makes boldness and innovation impossible unless Mr. Bush truly changes course. And he gave no hint of that last night. Instead, he offered up a tepid menu of ideas that would change little: a health insurance notion that would make only a tiny dent in a huge problem. More promises about cutting oil consumption with barely a word about global warming. And the same lip service about immigration reform on which he has failed to deliver.

At times, Mr. Bush sounded almost as if he’d gotten the message of the 2006 elections. “Our citizens don’t much care which side of the aisle we sit on — as long as we are willing to cross that aisle when there is work to be done,” he said.

But we’ve heard that from Mr. Bush before. In early 2001, he promised to bring Americans together and instead embarked on his irresponsible tax cuts, a divisive right-wing social agenda and a neo-conservative foreign policy that tore up international treaties and alienated even America’s closest allies. In the wake of 9/11, Mr. Bush had a second chance to rally the nation — and the world — only to squander it on a pointless, catastrophic war in Iraq. Mr. Bush promised bipartisanship after his re-election in 2004, and again after Hurricane Katrina. Always, he failed to deliver. He did not even mention New Orleans last night.

When Republicans controlled Congress and the White House, Mr. Bush’s only real interest was in making their majority permanent; consultation meant telling the Democrats what he had decided.

Neither broken promises nor failed policies changed Mr. Bush’s mind. So the nation has been saddled with tax cuts that have turned a budget surplus into a big deficit, education reform that has been badly managed and underfinanced, far-right judges with scant qualifications, the dismantling of regulations in order to benefit corporations at the expense of workers, and a triumph of ideology over science in policy making on the environment and medical research. All along, Americans’ civil liberties and the constitutional balance have been trampled by a president determined to assert ever more power.

Now that the Democrats have taken Congress, Mr. Bush is acting as if he’d had the door to compromise open all along and the Democrats had refused to walk through it.


Libby is throwing Rove under the bus

January 24, 2007

The Libby Trial 1

by emptywheel

I'm sure you've all either read my liveblog or read some reviews of yesterday's coverage, so you know the stunners and new information from the first day of the trial:

  • Libby is throwing Rove under the bus
  • Ari leaked (according to the very unreliable Wells) to David Gregory, something which none of his colleagues knew
  • Libby has his own annotated copy of Wilson's op-ed
  • Cheney wrote some orders on Libby's sonnet looking for Scottie to clear him
  • Armitage talked to Grossman the night before his FBI interview

I can't help but think there's an interesting dynamic going on. I've long argued that WH couldn't pardon Libby bc if they did it would make the civil case easier. Well, I can't count the number of times that Wells said Libby had "a day job" and his second "Meat Grinder" job of responding to Joe Wilson.

Geez. That seems like it would make it a slam dunk to take the civil case, at least to get past the bar of proving that whatever they did to Plame, they did it as a freelance activity, something outside the world of their ordinary duties.

So here's what I'm wondering. Pre-trial, the White House had an incentive to wait on a pardon beyond the resolution of the civil trial. But so long as Libby's team sits there exposing what Rove did and implicating Bush and so on, I think they've got a new incentive to pardon Libby.

It's an interesting dance, playing the criminal trial and the civil trial and the dying Bush Administration off of each other. Glad I have a front row seat.


BLOGGED BY Brad ON 1/24/2007 6:05AM

Princeton University Computer Scientists Confirm 'Secret' Key For Every Diebold Voting Machine 'Revealed' on Company Website!

Good lord in heaven. How dumb are these guys at Diebold?! Can you believe the United States has actually entrusted them to build a security system for the original U.S. Constitution, the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights?!

After everything else. Now comes this.

It was revealed in the course of last summer's landmark virus hack of a Diebold touch-screen voting system at Princeton University that, incredibly, the company uses the same key to open every machine. It's also an easy key to buy at any office supply store since it's used for filing cabinets and hotel mini-bars! That is, if you're not a poll worker who already has one from the last time you worked on an election (anybody listening down there in San Diego?)

The Princeton Diebold Virus Hack, if you've been living in a cave, found that a single person with 60 seconds of unsupervised access to the system who either picked the lock (easy in 10 seconds) or had a key, could slip a vote-swapping virus onto a single machine which could then undetectably affect every other machine in the county to steal an entire election.

But the folks at Princeton who discovered the hack (after our own organization,, gave them the Diebold touch-screen machine on which to perform their tests) had resisted showing exactly what the key looked like in order to hold on to some semblance of security for Diebold's Disposable Touch-Screen Voting Systems.

But guess what? Diebold didn't bother to even have that much common sense.

This idiotic company has had a photograph of the stupid key sitting on their own website's online store! (Screenshot at end of this article.)

Of course, they'll only sell such keys to "Diebold account holders" apparently --- or so they claim --- but that's hardly a problem. J. Alex Halderman, one of the folks who worked on the Princeton Hack, but who had tried to keep the design of the key a secret for obvious reasons, revealed Tuesday that a friend of his had found the photo of the key on Diebold's website and discovered that it was all he needed to create a working copy!

Halderman writes:

The shape of a key is like a password — it only provides security if you keep it secret from the bad guys.
Could an attacker create a working key from the [Diebold website] photograph? Ross [Kinard of SploitCast] decided to find out. Here’s what he did:

I bought three blank keys from Ace. Then a drill vise and three cabinet locks that used a different type of key from Lowes. I hoped that the spacing and depths on the cabinet locks’ keys would be similar to those on the voting machine key. With some files I had I then made three keys to look like the key in the picture.

Ross sent me his three homemade keys, and, amazingly, two of them can open the locks on the Diebold machine we used in our study!

Kinard's homemade key --- created only from the photo at Diebold's online store --- is seen opening the machine at Princeton in the video on the left. Unbelievable.

This is the once-great American security company that helped kick off this entire disaster after it was discovered they left their "secure" source code for their unsecure voting machines sitting out on the net for anyone to download from a public FTP site in 2003. And if you couldn't figure out how to hack one of their systems from that alone, now they've given you the model to build your own key at home! Have fun, kids!

Anybody seen the U.S. Constitution lately? We know Bush hasn't. But other than that, seriously, maybe someone oughta check the National Archives just to be sure...

A screenshot of the page from Diebold's online store, featuring a photo of the keys to the kingdom, follows below...

The CIA Got the Niger Documents!!!

by emptywheel

Here's the holy shit no one has noticed from yesterday. Here's the version of the INR memo introduced in court yesterday.

You'll note in the last paragraph of the second page--it says, "These documents, which were sent to Washington via both CIA and [State] Department channels..."

This is really big news. The CIA got the forgeries. But all this time, they've been saying CIA only got the forgeries through State.

Nope. They had their own copies. And still didn't analyze them until after it was too late.

Also note that it says that INR "may" have concluded the forgeries were forgeries earlier than January 12. This is totally disingenuous--they say they've looked at emails, but they clearly are ignoring the email the INR analyst sent back in October 2002. Huh. Still reading this, but it's time to go to the Court House.

The Trial of Dick Cheney

January 24, 2007

Scooter's in the dock – but his boss is the one being accused
by Justin Raimondo

The opening statements in the trial of I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby struck official Washington like twin thunderbolts, opening up a huge fissure in the Bush administration at the same time that everything else – the security situation in Iraq, the Republican Party, the president's approval rating – is falling apart at the seams. With Scooter under fire from federal prosecutors and caught in a furious fusillade of mutual recriminations, what it all augurs is the final collapse of the War Party.

The defense fired off its big guns on the first day, with Libby's lawyer, Ted Wells, rebutting Patrick J. Fitzgerald's contention that Libby had a motive to lie because the president had declared that anyone who leaked would be fired. (I note here that I'm citing not the "mainstream" media's account of the proceedings, but that of a blogger who has gained entry to the trial as a reporter, the anonymous "Emptywheel," whose reportage on the background of this case is surely one of the investigative wonders of the blogging world):

"Mr. Libby was not concerned about losing his job. He was concerned about being set up. He was concerned about being the scapegoat.

"Mr. Libby said to the VP, 'I think the White House people are trying to set me up, people want me to be the scapegoat. People in the White House want me to protect Karl Rove.' …

"Cheney made notes of what Libby said. Notes show Libby telling the Vice President that he was not involved in leak. …

"Cheney's note: 'Not going to protect one staffer and sacrifice the guy that was asked to stick his neck in the meat grinder because of the incompetence of others.'

"The person who was to be protected was Karl Rove. Karl Rove was President Bush's right hand person. Karl Rove was the person most responsible for making sure Bush stayed in office. He had to be protected…."

But who, exactly, is being set up here? Surely not just Libby, but also Libby's boss. Libby is named in the indictment, yet it is the vice president who is really on trial here, as the prosecutor's pretrial tactics and opening statement make clear. After all, it wasn't just Scooter out there on his own planting stories in the media discrediting Ambassador Joe Wilson, implying that he'd been sent to the African nation of Niger on a "junket" at the behest of his wife, CIA agent Valerie Plame. Behind Libby stood the shadowy figure of the vice president, directing the action from an undisclosed location. Yet the trial of his former chief of staff threatens to disclose his location at the very center of the conspiracy to "out" Plame.

Libby's defense is (1) Rove did it, and he, Libby, is a "sacrificial lamb," the fall guy for the White House, and (2) he had no reason to lie about the Plame matter, that this was at the extreme periphery of his concerns, and, in "recalling" how he came upon the information that Plame was in fact a CIA agent, he simply failed to remember with any degree of accuracy because of all the weighty matters that he had to deal with in his capacity as chief of staff at the OVP.

Fitzgerald, for his part, will show that this is simply not the case, that the Plame matter was one of Libby's central concerns, and that both he and Cheney could almost be said to be obsessed with Wilson's accusations that the administration was cooking the intelligence to fit a preordained conclusion.

In his opening statement, Fitzgerald drew a portrait of an administration under increasing pressure to explain the provenance of the intelligence that fooled Congress and the American people into going along with the decision to invade and occupy Iraq. One key part of this intelligence was contained in the infamous "16 words" of Bush's 2003 State of the Union address: shortly after the address was delivered, however, it came out that the story about Saddam seeking uranium in Niger was completely bogus and the documents supposedly backing up this tale had been forged. Yet the White House had been stuck with this tar baby and couldn't get rid of it. Questions about the "16 words" were being asked, uncomfortable questions, and the White House was having a hard time answering them: finally, they issued a statement admitting – for the first time ever! – that they had been wrong. In the end, George Tenet took the fall – but, then again, he hadn't been the source of the "16 words." So where did these allegations come from?

In the meantime, however, other questions began to be raised, such as: who forged the Niger uranium documents? The forgeries, after all, were fairly crude, which is what enabled IAEA scientists to quickly debunk them using Google. Who was trying to lie us into war using such transparently dubious methods?

Someone had pulled a fast one on the president – but who? It had to have been someone fairly high up. Or else how had such garbage made it onto the president's desk?

The CIA triggered the investigation into how and by whom Plame and her operation were exposed, but it seems likely the probe might have been an outgrowth of a broader counterintelligence investigation into the entire affair, including the provenance of the Niger uranium allegations. If this could be traced back to the OVP, where so much of the bad "intelligence" originated, then that would explain the peculiar intensity of Scooter's determined campaign against the Wilsons.

This president went to war on the strength of allegations that later turned out to be completely wrong. There were no WMD, no links to al-Qaeda, and no real chance that anything remotely approaching a liberal democracy could take root in the country once it had been "liberated" from the Ba'athist grip. They knew all this, yet they went ahead and did it anyway – or, at least, that's the strong impression the American public is getting. A full 58 percent believe the Bush administration deliberately misled Congress and the people on the WMD question.

Yet the great bulk of the ersatz intelligence came from the vice president and his cronies. Scooter's trial is payback time for the Bush loyalists, who – rightly – feel betrayed. Feelings of betrayal are not limited, however, to the president's camp, as Libby's lawyer made clear in his opening statement. Poor Scooter, the "sacrificial lamb" – he's taking the fall for his boss, who is really the one on trial here.

Cheney is appearing as a witness for the defense, and his cross-examination by Fitzgerald promises to be one of those epic moments when truth is spoken to power. Cheney's role in all this, as the behind-the-scenes manipulator of intelligence and master leaker of classified information, is going to be exposed for all the world to see. What remains to be seen is whether this classic confrontation will result in yet more indictments, and investigations, into matters not covered in this trial. Fitzgerald, you'll remember, once compared Libby's obstruction of the investigation to throwing sand in the investigators' faces so that they couldn't see who had exposed Plame or why. Yet this trial may go a long way toward clearing the air, so that finally investigators – perhaps Fitzgerald himself – can see their way to filing new charges, and not only against Libby.

This trial goes to the very heart of key questions now vexing the American public, the answers to which threaten – or promise – to change the face of our politics: how did we wind up in the middle of a civil war in Iraq? Who lied us into war? How did they do it – and why did they do it? Before this trial is over, we may well have some pretty strong clues as to the answers.

Now that the Middle East democratization-by-force-of-arms project is sinking fast, the rats are deserting the ship with unseemly speed, and it's every rodent for himself. The neocons, if they aren't repudiating their past views, à la Fukuyama, are repudiating Bush. He didn't put enough troops in, his "surge" isn't big enough, he's holding back from attacking Syria and Iran – instead of going "faster, please!" as one neocon ideologue puts it. To hear the neocons tell it, the president's crusade to "liberate" the Middle East from itself has stalled, due not to the limitations of American military power, but to a lack of presidential will. Their strategy of preemptive aggression didn't fail, the neocons claim: this president failed.

I hate to say I told you so, but I did tell you so:

"The neocons who ginned up this war and committed crimes in the process have no loyalty to party, or even to ideology. Always single-minded in pursuit of their objective – war in the Middle East – they latched onto the GOP solely as a matter of convenience, and never bet all their chips on one party or the other. They have no more personal loyalty to George W. Bush than an intestinal worm has to its host. Less, as a worm infestation rarely leads to death, while this plague of neocons spells real trouble – both legal and political – for the Bushies and the Republican Party, both of which stand to be discredited in the eyes of the voters – and of history – for a long time to come."

Oh, and one more thing: all that pretrial talk about a presidential pardon for Scooter seems pretty silly now that his lawyers are aiming their main fire at the White House. It seems the Libby defense team is employing what I have called the "Samson option" – and that means the beginning of a vicious civil war within the War Party, with the Bush loyalists on one side and the neocons – nested in the OVP – on the other, with each trying to blame the other for the various debacles that have befallen this administration and now seem to be culminating in a veritable tsunami of ill tidings for the GOP.

With the defection of Sen. John Warner and several other GOP big-hitters from the ranks of the pro-surge Republicans, the civil war inside the GOP – and the conservative movement – is going full blast. The neocons are desperately fighting to retain control over policy – particularly Iran policy – but their grip is loosening, and this trial may pry their fingers from the big prize, i.e., the vice president's office.

When this scandal first came to light, I asked the following:

"If Libby is implicated as having anything to do with Plame's 'outing,' then that, in turn, implicates Cheney, who must take responsibility. The vice president's resignation, under these circumstances, is a distinct possibility. Will we soon hear an announcement that he's retiring 'for health reasons'?"

The only problem with this quasi-prediction was the word "soon" – we've had to wait over three years to come to the point where Cheney himself has come under increasing scrutiny, yet finally the day of reckoning approaches.

In answer to all those who have written me, over the years, disdaining my hope that this trial would ever reveal anything about the inner workings of the War Party and their crimes, claiming that "they" would put a stop to it before anything of value saw the light of day, I have to say: you were wrong. The republic is not doomed: its defense mechanism is working, even if it took a while to rev it up.

So pull up a chair, kick back, and get out the refreshments: it's not just Scooter and his boss who are in the dock. The War Party is on trial in Judge Walton's courtroom, and the odds are damn good that they'll get the verdict they so richly deserve.

Guliani forced to defend credibility on Iraq

Potential presidential candidate and former New York Mayor, Rudy Giuliani, o offers specific plans how deal with security in Iraq during an interview on NB© T0day Sh0w this morning. The host forced Giuliani to defend his credentials on Iraq asking, "What does a mayor know about Iraq?"

He says "Anwar" instead of Anbar province, the core of the Sunni resistance.

Edwards Pledges Allegiance

Edwards: Iran Threat Serious
By Ronen Bodoni - Tuesday 23rd of January 2007

"Iran is serious about its threats," former US Senator John Edwards has told an audience in Israel.

"The challenges in your own backyard – represent an unprecedented threat to the world and Israel," the candidate for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination told the Herzliya Conference, referring mainly to the Iranian threat.

In his speech, Edwards criticised the United States' previous indifference to the Iranian issue, saying they have not done enough to deal with the threat.

Hinting to possible military action, Edwards stressed that "in order to ensure Iran never gets nuclear weapons, all options must remain on table."

On the recent UN Security Council's resolution against Iran, Edwards said more serious political and economic steps should be taken. "Iran must know that the world won’t back down," he said.

Addressing the second Lebanon war , Edwards accused the Islamic Republic of having a significant role, saying Hizbullah was an instrument of Iran, and Iranian rockets were what made the organization's attack on Israel possible.

Edwards also discussed Syria's recent calls for peace with Israel, saying that "talk is cheap," and that Syria was not doing enough to prove it was serious.

The former senator also said that Syria has been a great source of destabilization in the area, from its support of Hizbullah and Hamas, to its relationship with Iran, and for this it should be held accountable.

After opening his speech with great praise for Former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, Edward's continued to express great appreciation for the Israeli people and the special bond between the two countries, saying it was "a bond that will never be broken."

On the three Israel Defense Force soldiers who are being held captive by Hizbullah in Lebanon and Palestinian terrorists in Gaza, Edwards said, "It is well past time for their return home."

He continued to say that Israel has made many concessions in order to advance peace, including the Disengagement plan, adding that despite Israel's willingness to return to negotiations, little has been seen on the Palestinian side.

Edwards also spoke against the Palestinian Authority, saying the Hamas government was no partner, and that Israel should make efforts to strengthen Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas against Hamas.

He also said the Palestinian government must know that foreign aid should not be take for granted, and that the US and Europe must do everything possible to make sure the money does not go to terrorists.

Until Israel has a real partner, according to Edwards, Israel has the right, and indeed the obligation to defend itself, and should be strengthened militarily, politically, and economically.

In a further display of support for Israel, Edwards went so far as to suggest that Israel should even be made a member of NATO, saying it was only natural that the organization would seen to include Israel next.

U.S. helicopters strike high-rises in Baghdad

Bush ignores true cost of Iraq war Did you notice Bush never mentioned the Iraq vets last night?

By Ross Colvin and Ahmed Rasheed 14 minutes ago

U.S. helicopters attacked gunmen holed up inside high-rise buildings in Baghdad on Wednesday in what the U.S. military said was an operation to regain control of a major street cutting through the heart of the city.

U.S. armored vehicles firing their heavy machine guns joined the day-long battle between U.S. and Iraqi forces and militants in Haifa Street, U.S. military spokesman Major Steven Lamb told Reuters.

He said U.S. troops also fired mortars after coming under machinegun, mortar and rocket-propelled grenade attack during the operation to restore Iraqi security control of the Sunni insurgent stronghold, which lies within 2 km of the Green Zone, the heavily fortified compound housing Iraq's government.

"A lot has been coming from high-rise buildings. We are firing at terrorists in those buildings," Lamb said.

The battle came a day after President Bush told a joint session of the U.S. Congress in his annual State of the Union address that America dared not fail in Iraq and called on lawmakers to support his plan to send more troops.

Lamb had no details on casualties, but the Iraqi Defense Ministry said at least two terrorists had been killed and 11 suspects detained. A local resident said he had counted six bodies, all men, one of whom had a rifle lying next to him.

A local journalist said he helped transport 37 wounded people to hospital, including women and children, in three ambulances that managed to get through the security cordon.

Haifa Street, a long thoroughfare of high-rise buildings built by Saddam Hussein in the early 1980s, runs along the west bank of the Tigris River that cuts through the capital.

While the area was too dangerous for journalists to venture into, helicopters could be seen circling overhead amid the repetitive thud of mortar fire. U.S. and Iraqi forces said they killed more than 100 militants there earlier this month.

The Iraqi government said then the area was riddled with "terrorist hideouts" and said it had captured many foreign Arab fighters linked to al Qaeda in the operation two weeks ago.

The U.S. military said Wednesday's mission was "not an operation designed solely to target Sunni insurgents, but rather aimed at rapidly isolating all active insurgents and gaining control of this key central Baghdad location."

Battling growing Sunni-Shi'ite violence, Shi'ite Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki has announced a major security plan for Baghdad, vowing to crack down on violence on all sides. But his aides stress it has not yet started.

Bush has said he is sending 21,500 more troops to Iraq, most to bolster the new crackdown, despite fierce opposition from Democrats who now control Congress, resistance within his own party and public skepticism.

"On this day, at this hour, it is still within our power to shape the outcome of the battle. Let us find our resolve, and turn events toward victory," Bush told Congress.

The U.S. military said two U.S. Marines were killed in combat on Tuesday in western Anbar region, heartland of the Sunni insurgency, where Bush plans to send 4,500 fresh troops.


In Wednesday's Haifa Street operation, the U.S. military said "direct, indirect and air support fire assets were used in support of troops in contact from high rise buildings."

Two residents told Reuters they saw a large armored force of U.S. and Iraqi troops enter Haifa Street at 6 a.m. (0300 GMT). They said the shooting had died down by late afternoon.

The Muslim Scholars Association, a leading Sunni clerics group, condemned the raid as part of "a campaign of genocide" against Sunnis and said a number of buildings had been damaged and people killed.

Security sources said a helicopter owned by Blackwater, a U.S. security company, that crashed in the area on Tuesday was forced down after the pilot was shot dead.

Three others on board the aircraft, which had been guarding a diplomatic convoy on the ground, may have been shot on landing, they said, although other reports suggested they died when the aircraft crashed. A fifth person on a second Blackwater helicopter was also shot dead.

U.S. ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad paid his condolences to the security contractors, who helped protect U.S. embassy personnel, saying he had known them personally.

Gunmen opened fire on the motorcade of Iraq's higher education minister, Abd Dhiab al-Ajili, on a highway in southern Baghdad on Wednesday, killing one of his guards and seriously wounding another, the minister told Reuters.

(Additional reporting by Steve Holland and Tabassum Zakaria in Washington, and Ahmed Rasheed, Aseel Kami and Alastair Macdonald in Baghdad)

Silencing the ‘other side’ of the Palestinian story

Written by : Salma Abu Ayyash, P.F. Soto
Last modified 2007-01-23 21:58

Last year the Center for Palestinian Human Rights (CPHR) rented office space in the basement of the First Church Congregational UCC in Cambridge. For several months the group screened documentaries on Palestine in the church. Then late in October, the leadership of the church sent CPHR a curt letter:

“During the last five weeks, our office has been receiving numerous calls expressing concern about the nature and purpose of your organization. Some of these calls have come from individuals and organizations with whom we have important relationships.”

CPHR was asked to vacate by mid November, even though their lease ran through December.

The Jewish Advocate gave credit for this eviction to groups like the Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC). “Jewish activists are at the forefront of ousting a series of Palestinian advocacy groups held at a cluster of churches in Cambridge.”

The article referred to First Church and Christ Church (home of Sabeel, a Christian pro-Palestine group) as “red hot centers of anti-Israel and anti-Semitic activity.”

The charge of anti-Semitism is hurled with abandon at any one who dares to challenge Israel’s perspective on the Middle East, which dominates the US media. At stake is over $4 billion a year in military and economic grants to the State of Israel. The “other side of the story” might not sit well with American taxpayers.

Last July 20th, in the midst of Israel’s attack on Lebanon, business and political leaders in Massachusetts, including all Democrat and Republican candidates for governor, signed the “We Stand With Israel” ad in the Boston Globe and the Boston Herald.

We have to imagine that these people either didn’t know or didn’t care that Israel was committing atrocities, atrocities that infuriated the rest of the world; didn’t know or didn’t care that Israel showered the south of Lebanon with one million cluster bombs, as the remains of hundreds of children, many refugees, piled up; or that Israel’s total devastation of Lebanon severely diminished the livelihood of hundreds of thousands of Lebanese civilians.

Israel right or wrong

A cynic might even wonder if professional or personal gains were too much to pass up. The fear is that going against the Israel Lobby is a formula for political suicide.

In January this year, all hell broke loose when a Palestinian human rights group tried to speak at Andover High School. Six social studies teachers, including teachers union president Tom Meyers, originally invited the Wheels of Justice Bus Tour [], to speak in October. Zionists were successful in getting the principal to dis-invite the Wheels of Justice at the very last minute, late in the night before the scheduled visit!

On behalf of the organizers, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) contacted the school and the Wheels of Justice was invited back.

Over 300 parents, students, and community members assembled on January 5th in the school Library. Zionists mobilized and let loose their wrath on the speakers. Zionist agitators and parents who agree with them put on the most despicable display of incivility the tour group has ever encountered—and Wheels of Justice has visited over 200 high schools.

It was too much for the distressed principal, who eventually shut down the event. This was precisely what the Zionists were after, but they didn’t gain any friends on that sad and shameful night. The hate and venom was laid bare for all present to see, though TV viewers did not see it on the news.

Joe Carr, a member of a Christian Peacemaker Team for months in Palestine and Iraq, and a speaker on the bus tour, said, “It never ceases to amaze me how far some people will go to hide the truth—though it shouldn’t be surprising, considering that lies and propaganda is all the Zionist movement has to stand on. Once enough Americans learn the truth about what our government is supporting in the Middle East, Zionist imperialism is done for.” Let’s hope Joe’s right.

We see what is happening to former President Jimmy Carter, who had the audacity to call his latest book, Palestine: Peace not Apartheid. He’s not the first and he won’t be the last to be shunned, disavowed, or called liar by those who cannot or will not take on the Israel Lobby.

Because he speaks about Israeli violations of human rights, a deluge of politicians have disassociated themselves from Carter. In a democratic country you might think there ought to be a pluralistic response among high ranking politicians. But it seems pure McCarthyism prevails.

There most definitely is an “other side” of the Palestinian story. We can’t rely on the US media or elected representatives to get it. But if we are funding crimes against humanity, shouldn’t we know about it?

Debunking Iran's nuclear myth makers

Are Iranians marching in lock-step toward developing an atomic bomb? There are plenty of voices within Iran, including at the highest level, advocating caution or even a suspension of uranium enrichment. This idea should be encouraged, as it would comply with UN resolutions and undercut the nuclear myth makers in the US.

Jan 25, 2006

By Kaveh L Afrasiabi

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has requested that Iran suspend its uranium enrichment and reprocessing activities as a "confidence-building measure", in light of Iran's 18 years of non-transparency. Tehran now faces two paths: either heed this call or face tougher sanctions and, worse, the possibility of war.

Increasingly, the voices of dissent in Iran on the nation's nuclear policy are getting louder and louder, reflecting a growing disenchantment with the confrontational policies of President

Mahmud Ahmadinejad, which according to many Iranian pundits have put vital national-security interests at risk.

"It is starting to look like a real tragedy," a Tehran political-science professor told the author, adding, "An inexperienced mayor [of Tehran] with no previous international exposure was put at the helm, and he brought in his aides who were equally novices in the realm of international politics, at a critical time in Iran's foreign relations. The result has been near-disastrous. But, hopefully, other leaders will put a stop to this nonsense."

That hope is based on the fact that the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Seyed Ali Khamenei, has made known his displeasure with Ahmadinejad's hardline politics through an editorial in the newspaper Jomhuri Eslami, which has called on the president to stay out of the nuclear issue.

This sentiment has been reflected by another newspaper, Kargozaran, associated with the technocratic elite, some of whom, such as Ali Larijani, the head of powerful Supreme National Security Council, proposed a temporary freeze early last year (see Sideshows on Iran's frogmarch to the UN, Asia Times Online, February 7, 2006).

What would a temporary suspension achieve? The answer is: it would satisfy, albeit temporarily, the United Nations Security Council's demand, reflected in Resolutions 1696 and 1737, for a halt to the enrichment activities, given the fact that these resolutions refer to the IAEA resolutions that requested these suspensions as a "non-legally binding" and "voluntary" measure.

In other words, no matter how insistent the United States and its European allies are on a permanent suspension, there is nothing in either the UN resolutions and/or the IAEA resolutions that would endorse their unreasonable demand, which lacks a legal basis. Also, a one-year suspension would deflect the US military threat and prevent "lame duck" US President George W Bush from initiating military action against Iran.

Since 2003, Iranian officials have admitted that their previous declarations to the IAEA were inaccurate and have promised to take "corrective steps" to redeem the past shortcomings, a promise they have executed in good faith through increased transparency, IAEA access to military sites, and a nearly two-year suspension of the enrichment program as per the terms of the so-called Paris Agreement (for more on the collapse of the agreement, see Myth of the EU olive branch, August 30, 2005).

Today, a re-suspension of the enrichment program would fit in the framework of those "corrective measures" and create the space for negotiations and long-term agreements, not to mention averting the crisis and putting a stop to the collateral damage caused by sanctions and the threat of war that have scared away foreign investors, caused capital flight, and put the nation's economic projects in jeopardy.

Otherwise, the present trend toward the international isolation of Iran will continue, in light of the statement of European Union foreign ministers in Brussels this week that vowed to apply the Iran sanctions and "if necessary" to "go further than a UN list in targeting those linked to Tehran's nuclear work".

Not only that: in the absence of an Iranian compromise that would at least partially satisfy the Security Council, the pressure on Russia to curtail its nuclear cooperation with Iran further and, at a minimum, to withhold the delivery of nuclear fuel to Iran will undoubtedly intensify. In fact, today in Iran there are few if any officials or experts who are optimistic that the Russian-built power plant in Bushehr will ever become operational as long as the nuclear standoff continues.

One of the few, apparently, is the head of Iran's Atomic Energy Agency, Gholamreza Aghazadeh, who optimistically, and one might add rather naively, stated that the Russian delivery of nuclear fuel "will materialize in December".

Ironically, in the same breath Aghazadeh admitted that "today in the world there is a global consensus against Iran that includes even China and Russia and their 'red line' is the suspension of our activities". In a clue to the growing inter-elite rift on the nuclear policy, Aghazadeh stated:
Unfortunately some officials in the country were saying, "Aghazadeh, we were living our lives, why did you ruin everything?" One of the officials would say: "We have already experienced war, so why should we face another war?" - and all this at a time when some of the members of the nuclear negotiation team did not have much belief in the nature of the nuclear activities and the nationalist pride.
Another official of the Iranian atomic-energy organization, Mohammad Saidi, who has routinely told the Iranian press that any suspension of enrichment activities would be a "national betrayal", has been quiet lately, but he owes an explanation to the nation as to how to justify the cumulative damage to its interests by the pursuit of the hardline and inflexible approach decried by a growing chorus of Iranian officials and policy experts today.

One caveat. At the Center for Strategic Research in November 2004, this author pointedly reminded Saidi that the net result of the hardline position advocated by him and some of his colleagues would only lead to UN Security Council action, a threat deprecated by Saidi and others at the time. This should be a lesson to the Iranian policymaking machinery, to ensure that scientists are not given the wrong hat as diplomatic negotiators and vice versa. A better division of labor is called for.

This aside, another positive implication of the suspension of enrichment activities would be to curtail the relentless propaganda and pseudo-analysis that propel public doubts about the peaceful nature of Iran's nuclear program.

The fact is that after some three years of intrusive inspections, the IAEA has discovered no smoking gun and in its various reports, including the September 2006 report, it has admitted that "to date there is no evidence that the previously undeclared nuclear material and activities were related to a nuclear-weapons program".

But don't tell that to the formidable army of Iran nuclear myth makers, whose venerable list includes US Under Secretary of State Nicholas Burns, who said in Dubai this week that "there is no doubt that Iran is actively pursuing nuclear weapons". Burns and his boss, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, have been busy accusing Iran of meddling inside Iraq and aiming to "dominate the region", which is, said Burns, "why we have seen the US station two [aircraft] carrier battle groups in the region".

This belies the earlier report in the New York Times that the dispatch of a second carrier group was meant as a "signal to Iran" on the nuclear issue. Obviously, it doesn't hurt to have multi-purpose missions.

"Americans are used to speaking nonsense. None of their allegations are documented. Can they offer any evidence of what they say?" This is a question posed by Iran's consul in the Iraqi city of Basra to a Los Angeles Times reporter. Not an irrelevant question, in light of the recent statement by a powerful US senator, Jay Rockefeller, chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, who has access to classified information. He bluntly told the US media that there is "little evidence" corroborating the accusations that Iran is proliferating nuclear weapons. Rockefeller and several other US lawmakers, such as Senator Chuck Hagel, have warned that we are witnessing a remake of the march to war in Iraq vis-a-vis Iran. Obviously, history repeats its tragedies.

In US academic circles, a number of prominent scholars have penned their support to the US government's crusade against Iran, including Graham Allison, director of the Belfer Center at Harvard University's Kennedy School. "No one in the international community doubts that Iran's hidden objective in building enrichment facilities is to build nuclear bombs," Graham wrote in a recent issue of the Harvard International Review.

Yet even the IAEA chief, Mohammad ElBaradei, has admitted that the "jury is still out" and the suspicions of Iran's alleged proliferation center on "Iran's intentions", ie, the subjective mindset extrapolated from Iran's behavior.

And contrary to what Graham and others say, the list of dissenters from their doubt-free paradigm is long and includes Russian President Vladimir Putin and his foreign minister, both of whom are on record admitting that, to paraphrase Putin in February 2005, the information on Iran has "convinced us that Iran does not have the intention to build a nuclear bomb". Echoing this sentiment, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov recently told Interfax: "Reports from Iran do not indicate a real threat to peace and security."

That has not prevented many Americans from continuing to push the opposite line. Case in point: three scholars at the conservative Hoover Institution penned an article in a recent issue of the Washington Quarterly claiming that Iran is pursuing nuclear weapons largely as a deterrent against US power. [1]

Such certainties presume to know Iran's national-security priorities without a shred of doubt, and are often made by pundits, including expatriate Iranians, who have not put foot inside Iran for decades. This makes a mockery of value-free analysis. As the example of Allison at Harvard demonstrates, lending academic support to the US government's Iran policy plays a key role in the Chomskyan "manufacturing consensus" on Iran as a pretext for the next war.

What is peculiar about the Iran nuclear myth makers is their obliviousness to contrary information, ie, counter-facts and/or "anomalies" that undercut their carefully constructed truth paradigms on Iran's nuclear program. Allison in his article does not even bother with the statement by the director of national intelligence, John Negroponte, last February that Iran had not "produced or acquired the necessary fissile material for nuclear weapons", focusing instead on Negroponte's other statement that Iran would be capable of producing nuclear weapons within a decade.

But, of course, any country with mastery of the nuclear-fuel cycle has such a capability, as Japan's leaders have recently boasted publicly. The question is, has Iran put forth sufficient objective guarantees to ensure the low ceilings on uranium enrichment, and the answer is a definite yes. Iran has put forth a litany of initiatives with respect to robust IAEA monitoring of the enrichment cycle and immediate conversion of enriched uranium to fuel rods, which needs serious scrutiny by the international community.

Another question: Has Iran provided sufficient clarifications regarding its peaceful nuclear intentions? Again the answer, in lieu of a decree, or fatwa , by Iran's Supreme Leader, attached to Iran's response to the international incentive package, is affirmative. In a recent article in the Los Angeles Times, Iran's representative to the UN labored both points, reaffirming that Iran has no nuclear-weapons intentions.

Insight from the field of international relations is called for here. Robert Jervis has noted what happens when policymakers assimilate "incoming information to their existing beliefs ... People see evidence as less ambiguous than it is, think that their views are steadily being confirmed, and so feel justified in holding to them firmly." [2]

Interestingly, US government officials have supported the IAEA's finding on the foreign source of Iranian equipment that contained traces of highly enriched uranium, and some of them have told Arms Control Today that "the isotopic composition of the recently discovered particles appears similar to other particles that agency inspectors previously found at other sites in Iran. Those particles originated from imported enrichment-related equipment." [3]

Unfortunately, the malady of self-serving hypotheses is not exclusive to the Americans and has infected the Europeans as well. Case in point: a German author favoring sanctions bases his argument on Iran's "as-yet-undiscovered secret nuclear-weapon program". [4] But can we really exclude the possibility that there is no such program in existence, seeing how the virtually identical certainty about Iraq's intentions caused one of the worst Western policy blunders in the modern era? In hindsight, shouldn't Western experts and officials start paying some attention to Iran's non-proliferation declarations, instead of dismissing them as a ruse, as Allison has done in his book on nuclear terrorism?

This author in his several years of interaction with Iranian policymakers and foreign-policy experts has never once detected any evidence that would corroborate the Western pundits' claim that Iran is seeking a nuclear deterrent capability and, in fact, can recount several intimate conversations when important officials involved with national-security issues emphasized the "spiraling effect" of an Iranian nuclearization in the Persian Gulf region that would tax the Iranian economy and harm the country's long-term national-security calculus.

But, alas, the Western nuclear myth makers are too busy protecting their vested institutional interests by recycling their flimsy truth paradigm on Iran to bother themselves with such minor details.

1. "In large measure, Iran's leaders seek nuclear weapons to deter a US attack." Quoted from Michael McFaul, Abbas Milani and Larry Diamond, "A win-win US strategy for dealing with Iran", Washington Quarterly, Vol 30, No 1 (Winter 2006-07). The authors dispense with any empirical proof for their allegation that Iran is pursuing a nuclear-weapon program and, what is more, contradict themselves when calling for "a verifiable and indefinite suspension of all enrichment activities" and, simultaneously, for a "limited and temporary suspension". Worse, their justification of serious sanctions on Iran in the absence of Iran's compliance with suspension demands makes their pretensions of objectivity ring hollow.
2. Robert Jervis, "Deterrence and perception", International Security, Vol 7, No 3 (Winter 1982-83), p 21.
3. Arms Control Today, July/August 2006, p 31.
4. Peter Rudolph, "Sanctions against Iran: Options, problems, perspectives", Stiftung Wissenschaft und Politik Comments 37, German Institute for International and Security Affairs, September 2005, p 3.

Kaveh L Afrasiabi, PhD, is the author of After Khomeini: New Directions in Iran's Foreign Policy (Westview Press) and co-author of "Negotiating Iran's Nuclear Populism", Brown Journal of World Affairs, Volume XII, Issue 2, Summer 2005, with Mustafa Kibaroglu. He also wrote "Keeping Iran's nuclear potential latent", Harvard International Review, and is author of Iran's Nuclear Program: Debating Facts Versus Fiction.

Copyright 2007 Asia Times Online Ltd.